South African swimming champion Tatjana Schoenmaker is 24 years old with an Olympic gold and several international titles behind her, plus a finance degree to boot.
The impact of her wins have her giddy and giggling, her smile as bright as her recent medal, when she recently met with media about the announcement of her Discovery ambassadorship.
“I didn’t believe it when they said your life really changes [after you win an Olympic medal], but they were not lying! Walking in the streets three months ago, no one knew who I was, now everyone does ” she says, in one of her first interviews since returning from the Tokyo Olympics.
She’s now part of a group of her own heroes
Her Discovery ambassadorship sees her join a grouping of outstanding South Africans that includes fellow swimmer Chad le Clos, world 400m record-holder Wayde van Niekerk, Olympic 800m champion Caster Semenya, Springboks Makazole Mapimpi and Lukhanyo Am, football legend Lucas Radebe and wheelchair tennis superstar Kgothatso “KG” Montjane.
Supporting Vitality’s global commitment to get 100 million people 20% more active by 2025 and increase physical activity globally, these sporting icons are role models of physical endurance and performance.
“I think this is a perfect alignment of what I believe in and what Discovery stands for. I am thrilled, because of how Discovery supports athletes. I’ve only met Wayde once and I can’t wait to meet the others. To be recognised in the same light as these stars, is amazing, insane really,” she says.
The work as an ambassador is an extension of Schoenmaker’s aims for her personal foundation.
“All the athletes have a common goal and it is what I strive for in life personally, so it is easy to fall into this family. For the future of our country, we all strongly believe in a balanced and healthy lifestyle. Not just as an athlete, but as an ordinary person – to stay active, eat healthily and taking care of our health. That includes learning about healthy finances! I am blessed to have this team behind me.”
Where to from here?
Schoenmaker says the Olympic gold and recent sports awards have only pushed her to do more.
“It’s challenged me to grow and hopefully I can grow into someone who inspires someone else. I want to give hope to someone else now that I’ve got this light shining on me.”
She also has a slew of medals waiting for her, if she continues with her training as planned, with the World Short Course Championships, the World Long Course Championships and the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, UK, in July.
“I think it was great that the Olympics never really sunk in for me because I’m looking forward to the next Commonwealth Games. While they’re not of the same magnitude, it’s another chance for me to improve myself. I might not get a PB [personal best] or break the record – because my PB is now the world record,” she jokes.
And her aims to promote healthy behaviour, especially among young people, will continue. “Even for me as an athlete, it is about small goals. I want to show people that we can only do our best, whatever our best is on that day, there’s always a purpose for it. I’m going to encourage people to do this, even if they’ve never been in a pool or tried to run before,” she says.
She concludes: “I’ve always believed that our achievements, even world records will fade away and that, at the end of the day, you want to be remembered for who you are. There’s so much more of me I want to grow, so much space for improvement … Even if I don’t get to swim a personal best again, I can always grow in my technique, personally and spiritually.”